Scarlett McGourlay, Year 13 Student
This week is Carers Week, an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring, and highlight the contribution they make to families and communities across the UK. As part of our ongoing blog series, Year 13 student Scarlett McGourlay shares her experience of lockdown so far, including starting a new job in healthcare. Over to Scarlett...
Personally, I found the first two weeks of lockdown the most difficult. Mainly, moving away from my busy and structured lifestyle which consisted of 5am starts, the gym, school, essays, revision, waitressing, seeing my friends and travelling.
With no clear plans for my immediate future I began to feel quite restless, so I decided to apply for a new job. After an interview at a local residential care home, I soon became a care worker. This is not how I expected to spend the last six weeks, but I am so pleased that I embraced the opportunity. I have thoroughly enjoyed training and putting my mind and time to good use during the coronavirus pandemic. It has been a challenge at times, but the sense of accomplishment has been wonderful.
A not-so typical morning
Depending on my shift pattern for the week, I wake up around 6am. This gives me time to pack all my essentials for my shift, get ready and travel to the home I am working at that day. Work starts at 8am, but staff arrive at around 7:30am to get changed. We must all wear a separate set of clothes to work and only wear our uniforms once we are at the home for safety. Getting ready for a shift can be quite a long process - getting your uniform on, collecting all necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), a thorough hand and arm wash etc. Once this is all completed there is a staff briefing to share information such as who will be working where, a review of all residents’ well-being, an important reminder of anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19, plus a welfare check of all staff members including having our temperatures taken.
Between 8:30am and 11am is the busiest period of the whole day. This time mostly consists of getting residents out of bed, washing and dressing and generally encouraging a positive start to their day. These activities may seem simple, but when an individual suffers from dementia and/or physical disabilities, it can take a significant amount of time to support them to do these tasks.
My main task as a care worker is to ensure all residents have had personal care, eat and drink well and most importantly, have had as fulfilling a day as possible. As residents must isolate in their rooms currently, this can be very challenging. At 11am, the Care Plans are filled in. This is a written report on the individuals in your care. It may include medical charts such as food, fluid and body maps. It can be a lengthy process as you and a colleague will support around 10-15 residents each morning. At lunchtime, residents would usually gather and enjoy their meals together. As everyone has to stay in their rooms currently, we try to spend mealtimes with as many residents as possible. Often, individuals will need assistance with their eating and drinking.
I like to use my breaktime, around 2pm, to eat lunch, catch up with colleagues, read or FaceTime my friends. It can be nice to do an activity which is not work-related. Between 3-5pm, staff focus on ensuring everyone they are caring for is happy. This is essential at a time where residents are unable to see their family and may feel isolated or sad. It is really important to foster genuine conversation during this time and we may support a resident with using a mobile phone, playing a boardgame, painting nails or any other activity which might contribute to a satisfying day. 5pm is teatime, a smaller meal so less busy than lunchtime, but almost 10 hours into your shift it is easy to feel lethargic...several cups of coffee keep me on track! The last few hours of my shift are spent ensuring everyone is happy and settled for the rest of their evening.
8pm is a great feeling, as a whole 12-hour shift is complete! However, there is still quite a long process of ensuring there is no contamination when you leave the home. You must dress back into your clean travel clothes and put into a wash bag all the uniform or clothing items worn that day, dispose safely of all PPE, sanitise all water bottles / lunchboxes and then finally sign out. I normally go to bed at around 10pm. It takes me a few hours to prepare everything for the next day of work, but mostly I focus on getting as much sleep as possible before the next busy day ahead!
What I have learned
The last six weeks have been an eye-opening time for me. I always knew that being a carer was a difficult job, but seeing first-hand what they do every day, even in the middle of a pandemic, is astounding. I have unfortunately seen the devastating effects of COVID-19 on those who are most at risk, found myself mentally drained at times, physically exhausted. However, this experience has mostly been incredibly positive. I have developed a new skillset, met exceptionally brave people and kept any thoughts of boredom at bay. I have not spent this period of my life how I expected to (revising for and taking my exams) but that does not mean it has been disappointing. I have tried my best not to be absorbed by what this time ‘should have been’, but instead embraced the opportunities that remain. I am grateful to be able to share my experience of the last few weeks and I hope everyone from SGGS continues to stay safe and well.